YOUNGSTOWN Police layoffs begin to show
The city laid off 11 police officers and 15 firefighters in August.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Cindy Irvine bounces her crying 21-month-old son as she looks down her street from the front porch of her West Side home.
"I used to see them go up and down the street every day," says the 24-year-old single mother of two. "Not anymore."
Irvine said police presence has lightened up a bit in the neighborhood since August, when city police layoffs went into effect.
Police officials have moved around officers to make sure patrols stay consistent. The foot and bike patrols affiliated with the city's community police programs are gone.
Lawrence Bovo, a senior citizen, spent the summer on his porch, often seeing the officers ride bicycles in the neighborhoods around Mahoning Avenue and Steel Street. But he sees them no more.
"Fire and police should be a priority over everything else," he said. "Security and fire, they shouldn't touch that."
Layoffs affected four officers in the Neighborhood Response Unit community policing programs, said Youngstown Police Lt. Rod J. Foley.
Officers who once patrolled West Side and South Side neighborhoods and the downtown area on bicycles have been reassigned to cruisers. Foley said community police officers had helped address many juvenile problems.
Officers who patrolled on foot also have been reassigned, Foley said. They had made a dent in the downtown vagrancy issue.
Foley said other community service efforts that were eliminated include school-based safety programs.
"Community policing has been severely limited," Foley said. "We don't have the hands-on approach we'd like."
Patrol officers still attend neighborhood block watch meetings, Foley said, and Police Chief Robert E. Bush Jr. and his staff are looking for ways to salvage community policing efforts.
"We're trying to see what we can do to keep this program going," said Foley, who recently returned to the city station after a 10-week training course. "We'd like to maintain as much liaisons as we can with the community."
In the midst of financial problems, the city laid off 60 employees in August, including 11 police officers and 15 firefighters.
In the Mahoning Avenue and Steel Street area, some residents who had felt safe are taking matters into their own hands.
One woman, who cares for her elderly mother, is installing steel doors and hasn't ruled out the idea of bars on the windows. She said the measures are not in reaction to the layoffs, but to an increase in crime she's seen over the past two years.
Another woman, 24, with an infant daughter, is often home alone when her husband is out of town for work. She said she doubted the effectiveness of police on bicycles but still wants the police presence. She said she believes drug dealers live on her street.
"In the city of Youngstown, we need every cop we can get," said Domenick DeFrank, 30, who also lives in the area. "I think getting rid of them is foolish. I like the cops around."
Bovo said he fears layoffs could lead to more problems.
"I don't care how bad it is," he said. "You're dealing with people's lives and health and welfare. And homes."